Saturday, April 30, 2005

ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPERY has always been one of my favorite writers. When I was growing up, I read and re-read The Little Prince over and over and over again. To me, that slip of a book contained all the secrets and all the meaning of life. I knew that Saint-Exupery was a pilot, that he flew mail planes, that he flew reconaissance missions during World War II, and that he disappeared during one of these flights in July 1944. This only increased my sense of him as a daring, courageous, romantic figure.

Saint-Ex, as his friends called him, is not much written about anymore, which is why I was so pleased to find this article in the Guardian, about Saint-Exupery's love affair with flight: with flying through the air, and with the sky itself.

No one has written about air like Saint-Exupéry. Air was a substance whose beauty so astonished him that he often lapsed into dream-like states while at the controls: the aeroplanes he was flying did not have autopilot. "I live", he once wrote, "in the realm of flight."

And he died in that realm, too. When I was a child, thinking about Saint-Exupery's death in an apparent plane crash -- his plane and his body never found again -- saddened me greatly. It was such an untimely death for a man who was so humane and so full of life. But after reading this article, I realized that there is another way to think about this extraordinary man's death. He died the way he lived, and doing what he loved to do. For most of us, flying in a small seaplane on long flights over ocean and desolate land areas, surviving terrible weather conditions and at least one crash landing, and doing it again and again, would be a terrifying prospect -- unimaginable, really. But Saint-Ex thrived on it. He never felt more alive than when he was confronting the extremes of atmosphere and weather thousands of feet in the air; he was fully himself only when he was in flight.

With Latécoère [the company he flew for], Saint-Ex flew some of the most hazardous early mail routes over the Mediterranean, the Sahara and the Andes. During these years, he encountered the two elemental trinities - "wind, sand and stars", "mountain, sea and storm" - which he would worship for the rest of his life. And he came to understand that he was a man who found himself by getting lost. Flying, radioless, with limited fuel, above desert or ocean expanses, was his preferred state. He felt most at home in "a remoteness beyond possibility of homecoming."

No one wants to die, but for a man like Saint-Exupery, this kind of ending must have felt more fitting than many others he might have faced.

Seeing the earth from miles up in the air gave him a perspective and an insight about the human condition that most of us are not privy to.

"We are living on a wandering planet", he beautifully observed. "From time to time, thanks to the aeroplane, it reveals to us its origin: a lake connected with the moon unveils hidden kinships. I have seen other signs of this." This idea of connection - an idea that was both environmentalist and humanist in its implications - joins all of Saint-Ex's writing, right through to his mystical work, Citadelle, unfinished at the time of his death (he died as he dreamed, disappearing in July 1944 during a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean). Up in his sky-lab, Saint-Ex developed a socialist version of heroism: a belief - in the words of his best English translator - William Rees, that "human solidarity was the only true wealth in life, mutual responsibility the only ethic".

This ideal was deeply involved, for Saint-Ex, with the view from above - the aeronaut's vision. In the short, exquisite prologue to Wind, Sand and Stars, he described his first night flight in Argentina:

"It was a dark night, with only occasional scattered lights glittering like stars on the plain. Each one, in that ocean of shadows, was a sign of the miracle of consciousness. In one home, people were reading, or thinking, or sharing confidences. In another, perhaps, they were searching through space, wearying themselves with the mathematics of the Andromeda nebula. In another they were making love. These small flames shone far apart in the landscape, demanding their fuel. Each one, in that ocean of shadows, was a sign of the miracle of consciousness ... the flame of the poet, the teacher, or the carpenter. But among these living stars, how many closed windows, how many extinct stars, how many sleeping men ..."

"We must", Saint-Ex concluded, "surely seek unity. We must surely seek to communicate with some of those fires burning far apart in the landscape."


IF THERE'S ANYTHING more addictive than blogging, it's blogging about blogging. And if there's any kind of blogging that can compete with political blogging for my attention, it's literary blogging. Here's a Canadian writer on the allure of litblogs.


VERY ENTERTAINING ARTICLE on CBC.Ca (Canadian Broadcasting Corp.) on prolific writers and the conflicted way they're regarded in the publishing world. Like Alexander McCall Smith, who churns out several books a year in an industry where a writer who puts out one book a year is considered a dependable "house author" whose literary fecundity can help subsidize just as worthy, but less famous, authors.

The appeal of McCall Smith — who has sold more than 7.5 million books in the English language alone — is due to a confluence of factors. He writes mysteries without the off-putting gore; his books are driven by characters and setting rather than plot. (Garner calls them “literary soap operas.”) The books are amiably escapist, and because they’re crafted with something finer than the workmanlike prose of a John Grisham or Danielle Steel, they’re deemed serious fiction. “He makes you feel like you’re there,” says Marian Misters, co-owner of Toronto bookshop Sleuth of Baker Street. “You can drink the rooibos tea, you can smell the village. And I think people love to read that.”

Misters sees no problem with McCall Smith’s prolific yield. “Customers don’t mind,” she says. “If they like a series, they’d love to have one [book] a month, if they could, from the writer.”

Some observers, however, feel that prodigiousness can mar a writer’s canon in the long run.

“[McCall Smith]’s producing much the same thing every time, in a different iteration,” says Nathalie Atkinson, Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly. “It’s not really that different from a mystery writer like Agatha Christie — I still can’t get straight which ones I’ve read until I’ve gone through the first five chapters.”
Read more here.


JORG FRIEDRICH, from Berlin, writes in "Sign and Sight," an online German publication, about the road from Dresden to Hiroshima. The very names of these cities -- Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima, Nagasaki -- are now shorthand for massive, overwhelming human devastation on what used to be an unimaginable scale.

But familiarity with the descriptions of Dresden and Hiroshima after the bombings does not lessen the horror of reading them again.

Between February and August 1945, in Dresden, Pforzheim, Würzburg, Halberstadt, Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya, Yokohama, Tokyo etc., a total of 330,000 people died in conventional incendiary attacks, 120,000 in nuclear ones. Four fifths of Japanese victims were buried without being identified. Dr. Shigenori, military air defence commander, wrote: "Countless bodies, clothed and naked, black as coal, were floating in the dark waters of the Sumida River. It was unreal. They were dead people, but you couldn't tell if they were men or women. You couldn't even tell if the objects floating past were arms, legs or burnt wood." Before they died, they had jumped into the water to escape the fiery air which braised their lungs and set their clothes alight. People ran from the burning zones with their belongings strapped to their backs, failing to notice when these caught fire. One mother slung her baby over her shoulder and only noticed when she stopped to catch her breath that the child was engulfed in flames. Those who jumped into the water were no better off. The liquid was bubbling like the air, and the swimmers cooked in it.

The deadly irony in all this, of course, is that in defeating Hitler, a man who for the first time in human history harnessed science and technology to the cause of murdering millions of innocent people, the Allies opened the door to a new era of using civilian casualties to wage war. Although the military necessity justification is still invoked for attacks like Dresden and Hiroshima, even historians like Frederick Taylor -- who has argued that Dresden had real military significance and might have seemed like a logical war target to the Allies at the time -- point out that, whatever the rational argument might have been for massive bombing raids in World War II, the fact is that now, six decades later, the world's sole superpower is still relying on bombing to wage war, in the full knowledge of the enormous human cost that bombing exacts.

There is something inherently fascistoid in air warfare -- you don't see the person you are bombing and killing or injuring and you have this sort of psychopathic gaze from above. The air war is the only part of the war where the Allies, leaving aside the Russians, seriously ran the Axis powers a good race in terms of ruthlessness. But it is now 60 years after the fact, most people involved are dead and we shouldn't start pointing fingers except for in the case of the Holocaust. But the English and especially the Americans have continued since World War II to rely on bombing as an instrument of policy and that really concerns me.

In other words, maybe back in 1945, when the era of air attacks was still relatively new, we could think that military necessity trumped civilian casualties; but now, in the 21st century, when we've had 60 years to figure out that massive bombing kills thousands and thousands of innocent people, we should know better.

But in fact, our thinking has gone in just the opposite direction; and as a result the very way we conceptualize civilian casualties has shifted. More and more, I hear the argument that there are no civilians in war -- that anyone who is part of the "enemy" country and who does not actively oppose or fight that country is an enemy, too; regardless of specific military status. In this definition, even women and children lose their civilian status. This change in the degree to which "innocent civilian" even exists as a concept anymore probably is the consequence of half a century of growing reliance on a vast array of bombs that kill huge numbers of civilians by definition. Civilian carnage is now a given in war; and that has to be psychologically processed somehow. From the perspective of those who want to wage war, the best way to do that processing is by denying that anyone in the enemy country is a civilian.

This kind of rationalizing is not new. It started in World War II, in response to the massive civilian casualties caused by ... firebombing German cities and dropping nuclear bombs on Japanese cities.

When soldier Jack Couffer walked among the houses of the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah in 1943, which, according to the Air Force "correspond to the type of housing in which 80 percent of the German industrial population lives", he started imagining things. "I looked in the empty windows and imagined with terrible clarity that the houses were inhabited, bursting with life, with people walking through the narrow alleys on their way to and from the factories, street traders, shoppers, children playing. It is easier to set a sterile place like that on fire if you whisk such fantasies away". The coming air war was no longer to be won with scruples. Five years later Curtis Le May, warhorse in the campaigns over Germany and Japan and then head of the US Strategic Air Command, comforted himself with the thought that as there were no longer any civilians, there was no longer anyone to protect. Otherwise he could not have run the office that developed the "Reaper" and "Trojan" plans in 1949 – 1950, in which 100 atom bombs were to be dropped on 70 Russian cities causing 2.7 million deaths. The plan was based on assessments General Le May had brought home from Japan. "We knew when we burned a city back then, that we would kill many women and children. The aim of the strategy is to destroy the enemy's war-making potential. All that had to be obliterated." The Japanese had a complex and broad-based manufacturing system. "You only needed to walk through one of our roasted targets and take a look at the ruins of the countless tiny houses. Some kind of drill press stuck out of every pile of rubble. The entire population was involved in building aeroplanes or war munition. Men, women and children." That’s why they were slaughtered in the Second World War. "There are no innocent civilians. Nowadays you fight a people, not armed forces."

Reading this, I can't help feeling that we have learned from the mass murder and carnage of World War II -- but it's the wrong lesson we've learned.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

KATHY F. at What Do I Know? passed along her virus to me, the main symptoms of which are the uncontrollable desire to name five people, living or dead, that I would like to see blogging.

  1. Since both Kathy F. and Kathy from New Jersey mentioned Jesus, I will say Moses. I'd love to read his thoughts about what it feels like to be chosen by God to lead your people to freedom when you feel like you can't do anything right, and you're a stutterer, to boot. I imagine that Moses must have felt quite lonely and alone at times, too -- being caught between God's wrath and the Israelites' whining and complaining. How did he cope?
  2. Next would be Rabbi Hillel. He lived roughly at the time of Jesus; and he was of the school of thought that said living the spirit of the law was more important than living the letter of the law. I would give a lot to read the blog entry he wrote after his meeting with the skeptic who told Hillel he would become a follower of the Torah if Hillel could teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel stood on one foot and replied, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the entire Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it."
  3. Third, Sally Hemings. How did she feel about her sexual relationship with Thomas Jefferson? What did she feel about him? If she had had a blog back then, and had written down her thoughts on the concept of "choosing" to be in a relationship that was inherently coercive, what would she have said? If she had had the opportunity to read the Bill of Rights, what would have been her thoughts on those noble freedoms, given that they did not apply to her? I wish I knew.
  4. Fourth, Leo Frank, who was falsely accused of murdering a 13-year-old white girl and was lynched by a white mob in Georgia in 1913, after a judge commuted his sentence. He was the only Jew ever to be lynched in American history. I think it's a given that anything this man would have written in his blog concerning the events following Mary Phagan's death would have been fascinating and deeply moving.
  5. And fifth, Elizabeth Montgomery -- an actress I greatly admired both for her acting ability, the charm and warmth she projected on camera, and her political activism. She narrated the film "Panama Deception," which documented the effects of the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama on the people of that country; and she publically supported co-star Dick Sargent when he came out as being gay. If she had been writing a blog during the years she starred on Bewitched, I would have eaten it up: I was addicted to that show.

I now pass this respiratory infection on to Nellie at Dancing with Derrida, Elayne Riggs, Shakespeare's Sister, and Mahablog. May you all cough productively!


OKAY, FOLKS, let's get a shout-out for Pres. Bush's culture of life!

Pres. Bush's statement on Terri Schiavo, March 17, 2005:

Those who live at the mercy of others deserve our special care and concern. It should be our goal as a nation to build a culture of life, where all Americans are valued, welcomed, and protected - and that culture of life must extend to individuals with disabilities.

Statement issued by Memorial Hermann Hospital, Houston, Texas, April 28, 2005, concerning the case of Knya Dismuke Howard, a 5-month-old infant who has leukemia and a "rare type of flesh-eating disease":

"In certain unfortunate cases where the death of a patient is unavoidable and medical experts believe that continued treatment will only increase pain and suffering, the physician may ask for a meeting of the Committee for Review of Medically Inappropriate/Futile Treatment. That committee is meeting today to examine the case of little Knya."

Knya's parents oppose the hospital's conclusion that their daughter should be removed from life support.

Is Knya part of Bush's culture of life? Or, to paraphrase my own daughter's comment upon learning about the Texas futile care law, is Kyna too dark-skinned and too poor to be in that club?


LAURA ROZEN notes that the Bush administration has released the State Department report on terrorist attacks in 2004 in response to strong pressure from Congress. However, the report, which comes out annually, will not publish statistics on terrorist attacks anymore, according to State. So, as Laura says, "Good move, and good for Jon Landay, Larry Johnson, Praktike and others for bringing attention to the misguided effort to bury the numbers" -- but let's remember to point out that after this year's report is released, future reports will bury the numbers, unless we continue to keep the pressure on.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The state's social services agency went to court to block a 13-year-old girl who is pregnant and living in a state shelter from having an abortion, and the girl wants to challenge the judge's decision.

The ACLU filed an emergency appeal on Wednesday asking a judge to overturn the ruling that would essentially force the girl to become a mother, said Howard Simon, the organization's executive director for Florida.

The girl, named L.G. in court documents and described as a longtime ward of the state, learned she was pregnant two weeks ago and had planned to have an abortion Tuesday. Her caseworker arranged for transportation and help for the girl.

But the state Department of Children & Families asked a Palm Beach County juvenile judge Tuesday morning to block the abortion. The agency argued that L.G., who is 13 1/2 weeks pregnant, was too young and immature to make an informed medical decision, according to the appeal filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Florida does not have a parental notification law. In fact, in 2003 the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a parental notification law passed in 1999 was unconstitutional, because it violated the right to choose an abortion that was established in Roe v. Wade.

When she learned of her pregnancy, L.G. received counseling at a women's health clinic, considered her options, discussed her decision with responsible adults and understood the abortion procedure and accompanying medical risks, the appeal said. She also has never been institutionalized and is not being treated for mental or psychological disorders.

Nevertheless, the state of Florida has decided, in loco parentis, that they are legally required to consent to the abortion, and -- inexplicably, since the Florida Supreme Court specifically ruled that a minor does not need parental notification or consent to choose an abortion -- a spokeswoman for the Department of Children & Families said, "If a child in our care requests to have any procedure prohibited under Florida statute, we cannot give consent. ... It's not our decision. We stand in different shoes. We're held to a higher accountability."

Huh? L.G. has not requested a procedure prohibited under Florida statute. And the DCF has not been asked to give consent. On the contrary, they have proactively sought and obtained a court injunction to prevent L.G. from doing what no one asked for their consent to do. They are right that it's not their decision; although it's hard to understand how they figure that forcing a 13-year-old girl to go through pregnancy and childbirth is a "higher" anything.

The DCF's Republican supporters insist that -- despite the reality that L.G.'s decision to end her pregnancy was made freely, without coercion, after being counseled and informed of all her options, and after thinking about it for some time -- she is not "mature" enough to decide to have an abortion.

Rep. Jeffrey Kottkamp, a Cape Coral Republican sponsoring the parental notification legislation, said the case begs the question: "Does this minor have a legal capacity to understand all the consequences?"

"If she's not old enough yet to decide if she should have a tattoo, or drive, or vote, how in the world is she old enough to make such an important decision on her own?" Kottkamp said.

Well, Mr. Kottkamp, if L.G. does not have a legal capacity to understand all the consequences of ending a pregnancy, how would she have a legal capacity to understand all the consequences of continuing a pregnancy and giving birth to a baby? If she's not old enough yet to get a tattoo, or to drive, or to vote, then how in the world is she old enough to be a mother? How would she have the legal OR the emotional capacity to understand all the consequences of giving up a baby for adoption?

The point is, a 13-year-old child is not old enough to become pregnant in any sense other than the biological. A 13-year-old is not old enough to give informed consent to sex, or to fight off a rapist, or to resist emotional manipulation by an older boy or man who promises to give her love in exchange for sex. A 13-year-old is not old enough to have a baby, raise a baby, or give up her parental rights to a baby. A 13-year-old is not old enough for any of these things.

And having said all this, and knowing it is true, we are still left with the reality that a 13-year-old is, in many cases, old enough biologically to conceive a child and to become pregnant. So, given the fact that, once pregnant, choices must be made no matter what, the only issue remaining is who gets to make those choices. Since the devastating consequences of pregnancy when you are only 13 years old are entirely and completely the girl's to have to live with, and no one else's, the most elementary sense of justice would lead to the conclusion that the decision about how to handle a pregnancy should be hers as well -- after the caring adults in her life have talked with her, counseled her, told her all her options, explained to her the possible consequences of each of those options, and most of all, given her the love, respect, and support she needs to make a decision that, in the final analysis, only she can make.

When all is said and done, there are two levels to a situation like this: the level of the law and the level of the heart.

"No DCF regulation or state law can override a constitutional right as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court," Simon said. "But putting aside the legalisms, forcing a 13-year-old to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term against her wishes not only is illegal and unconstitutional, it's cruel."
Amen to that.


THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR has an article about the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA).

The bill ... would make it a federal offense to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion in order to evade a parental notification law, unless she has obtained a waiver from a judge. The bill would also require a doctor to notify a minor's parent before performing an abortion, if that girl is a resident of another state. The second part also contains provisions that allow a minor to get around parental notification.

Take note of that second sentence. What it's saying is that a doctor would have to notify a girl's parents before performing an abortion, even if the girl's home state had no parental notification law. This is a clear violation both of the girl's rights under the laws of the state she resides in, and of the rights of states that do not have parental notification laws. They would be required to obey, within their own states, the laws of other states.

The bill goes to the heart of parental rights, an emotional issue particularly for social conservatives. Historically, the public has strongly supported parental involvement in decisions related to minors' abortions, as long as there is a judicial bypass procedure for girls in abusive families.

Who doesn't support parental involvement in their children's health decisions? But the issue is whether parental involvement can be mandated by the government. No law can force a girl to tell her parents she is pregnant, and no law can force a girl not to end a pregnancy on her own. What parental notification laws obviously can do is prevent a girl from getting a legal abortion. And only legal abortions. In other words, parental notification laws, and this new federal law, require parental notification for one medical procedure and one medical procedure only: abortion. The law is very specific about this. A doctor is required to notify a parent before performing an abortion. These laws say nothing about doctors being required to notify parents before performing a c-section on a pregnant teen; or, for that matter, before performing a standard vaginal delivery. No parental notification required by these laws before doctors can give a pregnant teenage girl an epidural. Nothing like that.

That's one reason why this new federal legislation, if it becomes law, will not pass constitutional muster. It violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Another reason is because of the lack of any provision for a girl's health.

...the bill contains no exception for circumstances when the health of the minor is endangered. The bill does discuss cases when a minor's life is endangered, but health is not addressed. Abortion foes object to health exceptions, saying they are used to cover emotional distress and could be employed for any abortion.

Yes, of course they could, and rightly so, duhhhh. Pregnancy is about a woman's health. Everything about pregnancy affects a woman's health. It's entirely appropriate that laws regulating abortion contain exceptions for health issues, and the National Right to Life Committee has no business unilaterally deciding that emotional distress is not a health issue. But that's the trouble with laws that tell a woman or a girl when she may and when she may not have an abortion. It puts the government in the position of making judgments about health issues. No one but a doctor should be allowed to decide which health issue in a pregnant woman might necessitate an abortion, and no one but the woman or girl involved should be allowed to decide whether she wants to deal with her health issue by having an abortion.

And then there is the issue of abuse. Teenage girls who are pregnant as the result of rape or incest are supposed to be protected by the judicial bypass process, but judicial bypass does not work as well as abortion opponents would have us believe.

What troubles Ms. Silverstein [Helena Silverstein, a political scientist at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., and author of a soon-to-be-published book on judicial bypasses]about the legislation is that it rests on the presumption that the judicial-bypass process works.

"The world is not anywhere close to ideal," she says. "There are instances where minors try to secure the right to a judicial bypass and fail. Some judges are not willing to grant a bypass, some refuse to preside. Sometimes court personnel are not aware there's a process and will turn a young woman away."

This is not a trivial issue. Girls who are pregnant as the result of incest or rape may not be the majority, but a number of studies suggest that there are more such cases than most people realize, especially among girls who become pregnant before the age of 15. And girls who are pregnant because they were raped by a relative (which is what incest is) are the very ones who are most likely to be affected by parental notification laws -- and obviously by the proposed federal law. Think about it: Which subset of pregnant teenage girls are most likely not to want to tell their parents they are pregnant? Which subset of pregnant teenage girls are most likely to try to get an abortion without telling their parents, even if they have to cross over into another state to do so?

If anyone reading this is still inclined to shrug off the devastating effect parental notification laws in general and the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act in particular will have on young girls who are pregnant as the result of rape or incest, read this, posted on Third Wave Agenda. The piece was written about a parental notification law being proposed in Texas, but the information is just as relevant to CIANA:

Parental consent laws are bad news -- and Molly Ivans gives more reasons why. Now, there's no question that teenagers benefit from adult guidance. But the fact is that the vast majority of teens speak to one or both parents about their options. The ones that don't typically have very good reasons why. And parental consent laws have not been effective in decreasing the abortion rate. Rather, they cause more second-trimester procedures, since some teens delay telling their parents until they absolutely have to. Ivans deals with a particularly tough Texas law, which not only requires parental notification, but consent. It also makes it much more difficult to get a judicial bypass. The most powerful part of the piece is where Ivans gives examples of the young women affected by this policy:

Please believe that you do not know what "dysfunctional family" means until you have studied applications for judicial bypass. These cases are from the files of Jane's Due Process, a Texas organization that provides lawyers for pregnant minors seeking a bypass.

Social worker for a 13-year-old: "She ran away from her foster home and was gone for eight weeks. Now she's in an emergency shelter and is pregnant. Her mother is deceased. Her father raped her when she was 8 years old and is still in prison for it. I knew her when she had to testify against him. I don't know if I can convince her to go back to court, but she definitely wants an abortion."

Boyfriend of a 15-year-old: "She can't report anything to the police about what her stepfather does to the family. He works for the department. And this is a very small town. The family seems to live in fear of him."

"My older sister got pregnant when she was 17. My mother pushed her against the wall, slapped her across the face and then grabbed her by the hair, pulled her through the living room, out the front door and threw her off the porch. We don't know where she is now." – pregnant 16-year-old.

"My little sister was raped. Our parents are somewhere in Mexico, but I don't know if I can find them." – older sister.

Grandmother of a 15-year-old: "She just told us that she was raped. We had no idea that she was pregnant. Her mother is dead, and her father is being transferred to (another prison). Is there any way we can get this done?"

Seventeen-year-old: "I called my older sister to see if she knew where my mother was. She hasn't heard from her in over six months. I've never known my father. So I went to the courthouse to file my application (for judicial bypass), and the judge came out of his office and told me that he would give me a hearing but that he didn't believe in abortion and that he would never give me the OK to have one. And he knows me. He knows my family. He already knows I'm raising a 5-month-old."

"My mother's boyfriend used to hit her and sometimes I would try to stop him, but then he'd start hitting me. I left home to live with my boyfriend when I found out I was pregnant the first time. My mother wouldn't let me have an abortion, so I knew a baby would be safer living away from her and her boyfriend. But my boyfriend started hitting me as soon as I moved in. So I got my own place, a car and two jobs. I'm pregnant again, but I can't tell my mom because she would stop me from getting an abortion." – 17-year-old high school graduate, mother of a 2-year-old daughter, father deceased.

I spare you the incest cases, except to note that it is much more common than any of us would like to believe and not limited to any economic class.
The Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act will endanger young girls' lives and will NOT encourage or promote communication within families. It must be defeated.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Kevin Drum takes an editorial in the Wall Street Journal whining about how the upper middle class and rich have such a heavy tax burden, and he totally tears it apart.

Now, it's true that the rich and the upper middle class pay the bulk of U.S. taxes. But you know why? It's because the rich and the upper class also have the bulk of the money: the top 20% of taxpayers pay 67% of federal taxes, but they also earn 60% of all income.

And how about the super rich? Here's the Journal's half of the story: according to their tax wonks, the share of federal taxes paid by the top .1% of the country — those making roughly a million bucks a year — doubled between 1979 and 1999, rising from about 5% to about 11%.

But here's the second half of the story that the Journal mysteriously left out: during that same period, the share of income received by the top .1% tripled, from about 3% to about 10%.

So in 1979 the super-rich earned 3% of the money and paid 5% of the taxes. In 1999 the super-rich earned 10% of the money and paid 11% of the taxes. The Journal clearly has a different definition of "grew more progressive" than the rest of us.

So in truth, the tax share of the super-rich went down, not up. And Kevin provides a cool chart, complete with 3-d red arrows and notes, demonstrating that while middle class tax rates went up one percentage point, the super-rich's tax rates went down by nine percentage points.

This is the kind of analytical, let's-crunch-the-numbers piece that Kevin is really, really good at. Nobody I know of does graphs and charts as well as Kevin does. Superb.


LAURA OVER AT WAR AND PIECE has an important follow-up post about the surge in terrorist attacks in 2004, first reported in connection with the State Department publication that was suppressed by Condoleezza Rice after it showed that the number of such attacks last year was the highest since 1985.

Now there is an article on the MSNBC website saying that Larry Johnson, a former intelligence officer, revealed in his blog last week that the number of terrorist incidents in 2004 was up to 655 from a count of 172 the year before. As Laura points out, this number is three times the number of such attacks in 2003.

From the MSNBC article:

The U.S. count of major world terrorist attacks more than tripled in 2004, a rise that may revive debate about whether the Bush administration is winning the war on terrorism, congressional aides said Tuesday.

The number of “significant” international terrorist attacks rose to about 650 last year from about 175 in 2003, according to congressional aides briefed Monday on the numbers by U.S. State Department and intelligence officials.
Former intelligence official Larry Johnson first disclosed the new figures when he wrote in his Web log last week that the 2004 numbers would rise to at least 655 from about 172 in 2003.

Since MSNBC does not provide a link to Larry Johnson's blog, I googled it. Here it is; here is Johnson's post about the new figures; and here is a post from today quoting the entire letter that Rep. Henry Waxman sent to Condoleezza Rice concerning her decision to withhold these figures, and the State Department report, from the American public.


WE CAN ADD THE "NUCLEAR OPTION" to Social Security on the growing list of issues where the Republican leadership is radically out of step with mainstream public opinion.

And while we're talking about the nuclear option: It wasn't Democrats who came up with that term.



The Iraq Survey Group's main findings -- that Hussein's Iraq did not possess chemical and biological weapons and had only aspirations for a nuclear program -- were made public in October in an interim report covering nearly 1,000 pages. Yesterday's final report, published on the Government Printing Office's Web site (, incorporated those pages with minor editing and included 92 pages of addenda that tied up loose ends on Syria and other topics.

Apparently I'm not the only one who feels like she's in a time loop, hearing the same news over and over again, presented like it's new every time.

And more from Susie ... I really identify with this one:

I tortured yet another member of the medical establishment last Friday when I finally went for my cardiology consult. The cardiologist (who really is a very nice man) was whining just a little about how you used to be able to make a quarter million in a year, how many loans he had to pay, how he and his wife have to put money away for retirement and the kids' college education...

"It's not that I have no sympathy whatsoever for your problems," I interrupted him. "But you're divorced from most people's reality. I've been laid off five times in the last four years, I have no savings whatsoever, no retirement fund except for Social Security, and I may have to borrow to pay my rent next week - for an apartment that isn't much bigger than this examining room. And there are a lot more people like me than people like you. Your problems are right up at the top of Maslow's triangle."


AFTER ANN COULTER appeared on the cover of Time magazine, there was a brief flurry of outrage from the left side of the blogosphere. The main focus of the criticism was that Time's John Cloud, in his article on Coulter in that issue, had portrayed Coulter as an enfant terrible -- the political pundit that liberals love to hate, rather than as the liar that she is. Cloud's basic shtick was that Ann Coulter sparks hatred on the left because she says such provocative things and constantly engages in personal attacks; and that her fans on the right love her for pretty much the same reason: because she puts down liberals in no-holds-barred language.

Now Mary at Pacific Views has written a piece on Coulter and the Time article that references, among other sources, a post at The Daily Howler. The post, written by Bob Somerby, says that left political bloggers -- even extending to the A-listers in that category -- have missed the boat on the central issue: that Cloud effectively accepts Ann Coulter's status as an establishment icon of the political right and does not challenge that status. He describes it; he comments on it; to some extent he writes about why Coulter is the darling of neoconservative Washington insiders -- but he does not question why she is lionized by the politically powerful right, and given mainstream status.

And this is alarming, because the problem with Ann Coulter is not merely that she lies in her books and other writings, or that she says vicious things about people whose politics she disagrees with, or that she habitually engages in ad hominem attacks rather than engaging the substance of an issue. Obviously, all of these criticisms are true and valid, but the problem is much bigger than this.

When Ann Coulter lies, it's not just her statement or claim that is a lie. The sources she relies on to support her lies are also lies. And that second layer of lies is atop a third layer of lies. In other words, Ann Coulter does not simply play fast and loose with the truth. She is a pathological liar. Her original statements are lies and the footnotes critics use to expose her lies are ALSO lies.

Given all this, it's disturbing that Cloud defends his claim that he "didn't find many outright errors" in Coulter's work by calling the errors "mistakes" and saying they were corrected by her publisher:

My piece does not say that there are no Ann Coulter errors. In fact, I offer some Ann Coulter errors that we haven't seen before, and I quote people like Ronald Radosh at some length on the problems with the more recent book of hers, which is Treason. David Brock, who knew Ann Coulter from years ago, goes to a book that's years old, and prints some mistakes from that book, and of course [there are] mistakes. And a lot of them are corrected. If you go out and you buy a copy of Slander now, you won't find those mistakes in it, because the publisher has corrected them.

Now, I had a choice of, do I want to, in my article, list every single Ann Coulter mistake ever made, even ones that have been corrected by the publisher -- which is, by the way, what almost every other journalist who has written about her has done -- or do I want to say something fresh and interesting about her? Do I want to engage her on issues and try to figure out what makes her tick and whether this is all an act? That was what my story was about. My story was not primarily about picking apart ... all 1,000 of Ann Coulter's columns or the hundreds and hundreds of pages that she's written in her books. My job in this story was not to be a fact-checker. I don't say in this story that she's never made a mistake. In fact, I point out some mistakes. This is a story that calls some of her writing highly amateurish. I say I want to shut her up occasionally. I quote a friend of hers calling her a fascist [and] another friend of hers calling her a polemicist. I quote Eric Alterman, Salon, James Wolcott, Andrew Sullivan, and Jerry Falwell all criticizing her. The idea that this is a puff piece is just absurd. And it's part of this left-wing attack machine that David Brock has invented for himself in his shame.

This is so not the point, and it's really upsetting that more influential bloggers on the left have not pointed this out. Ann Coulter does not "make mistakes." The word "mistake" implies an unintentional act that happens, at the worst, as a result of not being sufficiently thorough or careful. Mistakes by definition are not deliberate. They may be inexcusable, if they happen over and over and it's clear the person making the mistakes is sloppy, but they are not planned or intentional.

Ann Coulter does not make mistakes. She lies. Deliberately, consciously, purposely, repeatedly, and elaborately. Cloud's idea that he is not obligated to point out the fact that Coulter engages in layers of lying because he is "not a fact-checker" is appalling. Is this what journalism has become? Focusing on what makes someone "tick" rather than the fact that everything they say is a lie?

Somerby's piece in Daily Howler is quite long, but that's because it goes into so much detail and takes such pains to substantiate every point. It's well, well, worth reading. In fact, in my opinion it's required reading for everyone who cares about fairness, truth, and ethical journalism.


I TOOK GOOGLE ADSENSE'S code out of my template. Those ads are supposed to be targeted to the blog's content, but obviously they are not. I kept on putting the offensive ones on Google's ad filter, and as fast as I did that, new and equally disgusting ads popped up. So I'm just scrapping the whole thing. I see Google ads on other people's blogs that are very accurately targeted to the blog's content. I don't know how to get mine to be that way. If any of my readers know, could you pass that arcance knowledge along to me? I promise to keep the password secret.


IN 1849, Edgar Allan Poe was on his way from Richmond, Virginia, to New York City, to bring his possessions and his fiancee back to Virginia. He never got there. Somehow he ended up in Baltimore, where he was found not long after in an alley, delirious, barely conscious, and wearing someone else's clothes. He was taken to a local hospital, where he died, from causes that are still unknown. What happened to him? Will anyone ever know?


I REALLY HATE MAHABLOG. It's always so hard to pick out one post worthy of linking to. They're all important enough to link to! Okay, so after you read the piece on free markets, and the piece on the article in the May issue of Harper's on the Christian right's war on America, go to this one.

They agitate not, neither do they lobby; yet in America an infant "born alive" after an abortion or miscarriage has a right to health care.

So here's what I want to know: Assuming such infants exist, how many hours or days pass before they lose the right to health care and are thrown into the American health care system to sink or swim with the rest of us? At what point do the provisions of the Infant Protection Act [the Born Alive Infant Protection Act of 2002] cease and, say, those of the Texas "futile care" act kick in? Has anybody figured this out?
The act itself came about because the Fetus People were spreading horror stories about babies who survived late-term abortions and even regular childbirth who were just put aside and allowed to die. Apparently the Fetus People are still spreading these stories, causing the Bush Administration to warn doctors they'd better clean up their act.
Speaking of futile health care,

Hundreds of thousands of poor people across the nation will lose their state-subsidized health insurance in the coming months as legislators scramble to hold down the enormous — and ever-escalating — cost of Medicaid.

Here in impoverished southeast Missouri, nurses at a family health clinic stash drug samples for patients they know won't be able to afford their prescriptions after their coverage is eliminated this summer. Doctors try to comfort waitresses, sales clerks and others who will soon lose coverage for medical, dental and mental healthcare.

I say those waitresses, sales clerks, etc. should march to the courthouse and demand to be given the legal status of "born-alive infants."
Has any reader of Liberty Street heard or read anything about the Born Alive Infant Protection Act of 2002? Because I hadn't. And this is why blogs in general and, in particular, blogs like Maha's are so important. As far as I'm concerned, Mahablog is one of a handful of "best blogs" on the web.


PUBLIUS OF LEGAL FICTION has a fine, detailed report on "Justice Sunday." Here is his take on the comments made about abortion.

As expected, there were several references to abortion tonight. Dobson said that Roe has killed something like 44 million Americans and created the biggest Holocaust of world history. Like most Americans, and many Jews I suspect, I disagree rather strongly. I simply don’t believe that non-viable fetuses (much less microscopic embryos) are “alive” in a legal, moral, or biological sense.

But for sake of discussion, let’s say Dobson is right. Let’s say that every microscopic embryo has a divine soul and that it should be considered “alive.” From that perspective, abortion is murder. In fact, it must be murder according to Dobson.

So if that’s right, here’s my question. Doesn’t the pro-life position necessarily imply (as a matter of logic) a pro-criminalization position? If you really think that embryos and fetuses are alive, then abortion doctors are murderers who should be imprisoned and possibly executed, right? Similarly, women (even 14-year old girls) who have abortions are at least conspirators to murder if not murderers themselves, right? And if you really take this view to its logical end, then every stem-cell researcher who splices an embryo is guilty of murder, right? And if not, why not? How can you believe that abortion is murder and not support criminal penalties (or even capital punishment) for those who participate in abortion or stem cell research.

That’s what scares me most about overturning Roe. In some states, we would literally be throwing doctors and young women in jail. Call me a crazy secular Lefty, but I don’t believe that the government should use the threat of criminal sanctions to force birth on 18-year old girls.

I guess I like crazy secular Lefties. They are certainly no competition for the crazies who believe that a fertilized egg has the same human status as my grandmother who died in Auschwitz.


Monday, April 25, 2005

MANY BLOGGERS have commented on the recent Army Inspector-General's report exonerating senior officers at Abu Ghraib of all responsibility for the abuse of detainees there. So far, the most comprehensive analysis I have found is the one by Phillip Carter at Intel-Dump. Carter has done his homework. His exhaustive research into actual military rules and investigations, as well as case law, enables him to make a compelling -- and, in my opinion, airtight -- case that this report is one of the most breathtaking examples of mendacity and whitewashing in many years -- by a military that has repeatedly claimed to have the capacity to police itself.

From this vast documentation that Carter has pulled together, I will quote one passage toward the end of the piece:

Remember the Fay-Jones report? It was an exhaustive review of U.S. military intelligence activities in Iraq that was published in August 2004. Together with the Schlesinger and the Taguba reports, the Fay-Jones report provided a mind-numbing catalog of detail about the abuses which took places in Iraq. But did you know that the Fay-Jones report also produced a verdict with respect to the command responsibility of the senior officers involved? Here's what LTG Anthony Jones and MG George Fay had to say in their ExSum (PDF):


Clearly abuses occurred at the prison at Abu Ghraib. There is no single, simple explanation for why this abuse at Abu Ghraib happened. The primary causes are misconduct (ranging from inhumane to sadistic) by a small group of morally corrupt soldiers and civilians, a lack of discipline on the part of the leaders and Soldiers of the 205th MI BDE and a failure or lack of leadership by multiple echelons within CJTF-7. Contributing factors can be traced to issues affecting Command and Control, Doctrine, Training, and the experience of the Soldiers we asked to perform this vital mission.

For purposes of this report, abuse is defined as treatment of detainees that violated U.S. criminal law or international law or treatment that was inhumane or coercive without lawful justification. Whether the Soldier or contractor knew, at the time of the acts, that the conduct violated any law or standard, is not an element of the definition.

The abuses at Abu Ghraib primarily fall into two categories: a) intentional violent or sexual abuse and, b) abusive actions taken based on misinterpretations or confusion regarding law or policy.

LTG Jones found that while senior level officers did not commit the abuse at Abu Ghraib they did bear responsibility for lack of oversight of the facility, failing to respond in a timely manner to the reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross and for issuing policy memos that failed to provide clear, consistent guidance for execution at the tactical level.

MG Fay has found that from 25 July 2003 to 6 February 2004, twenty-seven 205 MI BDE Personnel allegedly requested, encouraged, condoned or solicited Military Police (MP) personnel to abuse detainees and/or participated in detainee abuse and/or violated established interrogation procedures and applicable laws and regulations during interrogation operations at Abu Ghraib.

LTG Jones minces no words later in his report — on page 30, he pins direct responsibility on specific officers within the chain of command who deserve blame:

(c) (U) I find that LTG Sanchez, and his DCG, MG Wojdakowski, failed to ensure proper staff oversight of detention and interrogation operations. As previously stated, MG Wojdakowski had direct oversight of two new Brigade Commanders. Further, staff elements of the CJTF-7 reacted inadequately to some of the Indications and Warnings discussed above. However, in light of the operational environment, and CJTF-7’s under-resourcing and unplanned missions, and the Commander’s consistent need to prioritize efforts, I find that the CJTF-7 Commander and staff performed above expectations, in the over-all scheme of OIF.

Despite these generals' findings, none of the officers responsible for facilitating these abuses will face criminal charges. Or, put another way, the Army IG has wholly disregarded the record evidence before him to arrive at an arbitrary and capricious decision that the senior Army leaders involved should face no legal consequences for their actions. What kind of message does that send to our junior military leaders? What kind of message does that send to the world?


TWO AMUSING POSTS over at Functional Ambivalent: one on Alessandra Stanley's wickedly funny remarks about Katie Couric; and the other about Colin Powell's "behind-the-scenes but in public" opposition to the nomination of John Bolton. Tom says exactly what I was thinking after reading about this: Powell obviously knows how to translate the words "Don't get mad, get even" into action.


BOOKSLUT'S MICHAEL SCHAUB directs our attention to Deroy Murdock's rant in the National Review Online about libraries as magnets for terrorists and the danger of evil librarians who regularly destroy Internet use and circulation records to protect their users' privacy.

One thing about Murdock. He may fancy himself a patriot, but he can't write worth a nickel. I had to force myself to finish the column. Turgid is the word.


BOING BOING posts on the new documentary about Enron. It seems Enron's "anything for profits" management philosophy was built on a system of rating employee performance that put making money before and above any other consideration.

Every year, all employees were rated from 1 (best) to 5 (worst). The more money you made for the company, the better your rating. (Skilling was fond of saying that money was the only thing that motivated people). Skilling mandated that between 10 and 15 percent of the employees had to be rated as 5s. And to get a rating of 5 meant that you were fired. This review process was dubbed "rank and yank."

It's no surprise that this algorithm resulted in a corporate petri dish teeming with sociopaths who were taped in phone conversations laughing at the thought of stealing money from "grandma millies" who were hit with unaffor[d]ably high utility bills, and urging on the California wildfires by chanting "burn baby, burn!."


LIZARD QUEEN quotes Barry Goldwater on mixing religion and politics, and finds that old campaign slogan was dead-on: "In your heart you know he's right."


THE "JUSTICE SUNDAY" CROWD like to criticize "cafeteria Christians" who think they can "pick and choose" which parts of the Bible they will follow and which they won't. But, as Echidne points out, biblical literalists are doing some picking and choosing of their own.

Via Brad Plumer.


JEANNE AT BODY AND SOUL has written a substantive, thoughtful, highly nuanced piece on the new Pope's much-publicized ties to the Nazi regime in his youth. Her basic point is that the things Ratzinger did as a teenager that involved him in Hitler's genocidal policies -- like joining the Hitler Youth -- cannot and should not be held against him now. What he should and must be held to account for is his refusal now, still, to acknowledge that he could have resisted, but chose not to. It's not the choices in and of itself that bother Jeanne; it's the denial that those moral choices existed.

In his biography of Ratzinger, John Allen, National Catholic Reporter's Vatican correspondent, notes that Ratzinger has said that resistance to Nazism was "impossible," a word echoed by his brother in the recent Times of London article that revived the issue of the then cardinal's wartime experiences.

Resistance was impossible. I'm sorry, but that's a blatant falsehood. The Times follows with the comments of a woman from Ratzinger's home town:

Some locals in Traunstein, like Elizabeth Lohner, 84, whose brother-in-law was sent to Dachau as a conscientious objector, dismiss such suggestions. “It was possible to resist, and those people set an example for others,” she said. “The Ratzingers were young and had made a different choice.”

John Allen adds that within Ratzinger's "immediate orbit" there were several models of resistance, including Communists, Jehovah's Witnesses and even some Catholics.

Clearly, when Ratzinger and his brother (who is also a priest) say that anti-Nazi resistance was "impossible," they're lying. And it's not an insignificant or harmless lie. Denying the option of resistance insults, indeed, denies the existence of, a lot of people who made far braver and more difficult decisions than the Ratzingers. Failing to exhibit extraordinary courage is human and understandable. Denying the extraordinarily courageous their due is shameful. Denying moral agency is surely unworthy of a man who would be pope.

The Ratzingers lie about this because if they admit that moral choices were involved, they'd have to explain their choice. In fact, I would suggest that anyone who cared about moral agency would recognize the need for self-reflection, for either admitting moral failure, or asserting moral principles. I can think of many possible explanations, but none of them fit well into black and white morality.
My problem with the newly minted pope on this issue is that by lying -- lying, I suspect, as much to himself as to the rest of us -- he cut himself off from understanding the difficult moral choices people face. By lying about it now, he shows that he's still unwilling to face the complexity of moral choice. Whatever understandable lack of physical courage he displayed as a teenager is trumped a thousand times over by moral cowardice today.


Part 1 of this review is here (scroll down, past the Thomas Friedman book review).

THE TRIALS OF OSSIAN SWEET and his 10 co-defendants in late 1925 drew national attention at the time. It was the first time in the history of black people in America that a jury (an all-white jury) affirmed the basic principle that the right to defend self, family, and property from physical attack applied to both black people and white people. The two trials (the first, in which the defendants included 10 men in addition to Ossian Sweet, ended in a mistrial; the second resulted in Ossian Sweet, tried alone this time, being acquitted of all charges) were also famous as much because of the stature and fame of the defense attorney. Clarence Darrow -- famed from coast to coast because of the Scopes trial -- took the case at the request of the NAACP, whose leaders felt that Ossian's best chance for acquittal was being defended by a white lawyer with top-notch credentials. After reading Kevin Boyle's book, it's clear that Darrow's presence was key to the ultimate verdict of not-guilty. Ossian himself, with his quietly dignified manner and eloquent testimony, played a big part in convincing the jury to free him; but without Darrow's electrifying statements throughout the trial on white racism and its overwhelming and powerful influence on the most deeply rooted fears, expectations, assumptions, and responses of black Americans, it's questionable whether the testimony of a black man alone -- even one as professionally successful as Ossian Sweet -- could have secured Sweet's acquittal at that time and place in American history.

Kevin Boyle's writing ability impresses as much as his historian's skills. Arc of Justice is written in the best narrative nonfiction style. Prof. Boyle doesn't just plop us into the fateful night when a mob of whites tried to drive the Sweets out of their new home. Horrifying as those descriptions are, without the context of Dr. Sweet's entire life and experiences before that night, it would be far more difficult to understand and feel the full measure of terror and outrage that filled the mind and heart of Ossian Sweet on that terrible night in September, 1925. When you begin to understand that events like a young black man, accused of raping and murdering a white woman, being tied to a tree by a mob of white men who piled extremely dry wood all around the tree, doused the wood with gasoline, and then handed the match to the woman's husband, were not isolated incidents at all, but routine and commonplace in the lives of black Americans in the South, where Ossian was born and raised, you can better grasp the entire lifetime of memory and experience that informed Ossian's feelings on that one night in 1925. When Ossian Sweet, hidden in some bushes, watched that young man slowly consumed by those flames, screaming and screaming and screaming until he was finally burned to death, he was only five years old. Needless to say, the scars never left him.

And when you know this other American history, which most white Americans never have to think about and probably to a large extent aren't even aware of, you can also grasp the significance of an all-white jury acquitting a black man of the charge of murder for having defended himself, his family, and his home from mob attack -- a charge no white man would ever have even had to face at all in the same situation. Although it would be another 40 years before Martin Luther King, Jr., would quote Theodore Parker's observation that "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," every black man and woman in America could feel the truth of that sentiment on the day that Dr. Ossian Sweet was found not guilty of murder for the crime of self-defense.

If you would like to read more about Dr. Ossian Sweet and the 1925 trial, here are some resources:

"I have to die a man or live a coward": the saga of Dr. Ossian Sweet.

Key Figures in the Sweet Trials

The Trial of Dr. Ossian Sweet

Interview with Kevin Boyle, winner of the National Book Award


HERE IS THE BLOG of a young man from the UK who until very recently lived in Iraq. He was a relief worker, like Marla Ruzicka, trying to help the Iraqi people. There is a lot of information about Marla here, from the perspective of people who knew her personally and what she was trying to do in Iraq.

I found this blog via Riverbend.


BOB HERBERT writes about Marla Ruzicka, who died, an innocent victim of war, trying to help innocent victims of war. She chose to put herself in the midst of war, because she wanted to be a witness to the unimaginable suffering (unimaginable to most Americans, that is) that thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Iraqi civilians have experienced since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began. And she wanted to help, as much as one individual could, to break through the Bush administration's policies designed to keep ordinary Americans from seeing the enormity of the harm U.S. policies have done and are continuing to do to Iraqis. Harm like this:

In a horrifying incident that occurred in the spring of 2003, an Iraqi woman threw two of her children, an infant and a toddler, out the window of a car that had been hit accidentally in an American rocket attack. The woman and the rest of her family perished in the black smoke and flames of the wreckage. The toddler, whose name was Zahraa, was severely burned. She died two weeks later.

But Americans never hear about most of these incidents.

The vast amount of suffering and death endured by civilians as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has, for the most part, been carefully kept out of the consciousness of the average American. I can't think of anything the Bush administration would like to talk about less. You can't put a positive spin on dead children.
There's been hardly any media interest in the unrelieved agony of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq. It's an ugly subject, and the idea has taken hold that Americans need to be protected from stories or images of the war that might be disturbing. As a nation we can wage war, but we don't want the public to be too upset by it.

So the public doesn't even hear about the American bombs that fall mistakenly on the homes of innocent civilians, wiping out entire families. We hear very little about the frequent instances of jittery soldiers opening fire indiscriminately, killing and wounding men, women and children who were never a threat in the first place. We don't hear much about the many children who, for one reason or another, are shot, burned or blown to eternity by our forces in the name of peace and freedom.

Obviously, Marla Ruzicka's death in one of the car bombings that happen pretty much every day in Iraq now is a personal tragedy for everyone who knew and loved her. But it's also a terrible loss for Iraqis. Because who now will go door to door interviewing families and documenting civilian casualties and working to show Americans the truths that their own government does not want them to see or know about?


Sunday, April 24, 2005

FROM THE RAW STORY we learn of a bill that would make it a crime for anyone other than a parent to take a girl seeking an abortion from a state with parental notification requirements to a state where parental notification is not required. The bill also mandates a 24-hour waiting period and written notification from the abortion provider to the parent, even if it's the parent who is accompanying the girl to get the abortion. This legislation, which is aptly and accurately called the "Teen Endangerment Act" (H.R. 748), and which is referred to as the "Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act" by the American mullahs who support it, has been approved by the House Judiciary Committee. It now goes to the full House, which is expected to approve it.

The bill is being opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union and by women's rights and pro-choice organizations (of course). Also, 14 House Democrats have written a letter of dissent that will be attached to the legislation upon its entry into the House.

No surprise, the groups supporting this legislation (like Focus on the Family, among others) say the legislation is a response to "activist judges" who try to sabotage parental notification laws in states that have them. The mantra of the religious right is that the Teen Endangerment Act supports the rights of parents, upholds families, and protects the health and well-being of pregnant girls.

That is a bunch of unvarnished horseshit. First of all, the restrictions and requirements of this proposed law, as well as the punishments for violating them, include no exception for the health of the girl. In other words, it is a crime punishable by heavy fines, a year in prison, or both, for anyone in a girl's life -- older sibling, aunt or uncle, grandparent, minister or rabbi, best friend -- to help a girl get an abortion in another state: even if the girl's health or life is in danger; even if the girl's family is abusive or nonfunctional and the friend or relative is trying to save the girl's life. Even if it's the girl's own parent who is taking her across state lines, that parent is subject to criminal sanction if she or he does not follow the rules in the law: waiting 24 hours and not proceeding without notification by the physician.

That is not only heedless of the girl's health; it's also totally anti-family! How dare the government tell a parent or another family member how to care for their own child or close relative? What business does the government have interfering in family relationships? NO business!

There is more, so much more, that is wrong with this legislation. It presumes to come between a doctor and her patient, second-guessing medical judgments and putting roadblocks in the path of a physician whose job it is to protect and preserve a patient's health. It's anti-medicine and anti-doctor.

And, once again -- where have we heard this before? -- it violates the principle of federalism that is a fundamental part of what this country is about. There are 27 states in the United States of America that either have NO parental notification laws, or have more lenient parental notification laws. This proposed legislation, if passed, would impose the laws of states that have parental notification laws on states that don't, forcing some states to abide by the laws of others. And the bill violates what is arguably the most essential right individuals can have in a country built on republican (small r) or federalist principles: the right to travel freely from any state to any other state without restriction in order to get a lifestyle, a service, a job, or a legal environment; or to fill or satisfy any tangible or intangible need the individual might have that cannot be met, filled, or satisfied where they are.

Supporters of this bill say it "will help spark communication among girls and their parents." That is such blathering nonsense. It will do precisely the opposite. Communication is "sparked" by love and trust, not by legal requirements and threats of imprisonment and fines. How is communication between girls and their parents going to be facilitated by a law that makes it a crime for a girl to cross state lines in an effort to get an abortion without notifying her parents when the pregnancy was caused by her own father raping her? How is communication sparked in a family where a girl knows, or has excellent reason to believe, that she will be brutally beaten, or called a cunt and a whore and a bitch, or kicked out of the house, if she obeys the law that says she has to notify her parents before her aunt or her grandmother can take her to another state to get an abortion?

These are exactly the kind of horrors that could and do happen, and for which this legislation makes no allowance. From the letter of dissent signed by 14 House Democrats:

Some young women justifiably fear that they would be physically abused if forced to disclose their pregnancy to their parents. Nearly one-third of minors who choose not to consult with their parents have experienced violence in their family, feared violence, or feared being forced to leave home. Enacting this legislation and forcing young women in these circumstances to notify their parents of their pregnancies will only exacerbate the dangerous cycle of violence in dysfunctional families. This is the lesson of Spring Adams, an Idaho teenager who was shot to death by her father after he learned she was planning to terminate a pregnancy caused by his acts of incest. It is clear that when a young woman believes that she cannot involve her parents in her decision to terminate a pregnancy, the law cannot mandate healthy, open family communication.

We are well aware of proponents' claims that the travel provision would protect the rights of minors who cannot obtain parental consent because they have the option to appear before judges and obtain a judicial bypass for any parental involvement laws. While bypasses may have some theoretical benefits, in many cases it is difficult if not impossible for troubled young women to obtain them. Some teenagers live in regions where the local judges consistently refuse to grant bypasses, regardless of the facts involved. For example, one study found that a number of judges in Massachusetts either refuse to handle abortion petitions or focus inappropriately on the morality of abortion. Other young women may live in small communities where the judge may be a friend of the parents, a family member, or even the parent of a friend. Still others may live in regions where the relevant courts are not open in the evenings or on weekends, when minors could seek a bypass without missing school or arousing suspicion.

The difficulties in obtaining a judicial bypass were clearly illustrated by Ms. Billie Lominick during her testimony before the Subcommittee on the Constitution. Ms. Lominick was a 63-year old grandmother who helped a pregnant minor from a physically and sexually abusive household cross state lines to obtain an abortion. Ms. Lominick testified that her assistance was essential because the minor was unable to find any judge in her home state of South Carolina who would hear her judicial bypass petition.
With respect to the Federal Notification Provision, the section requires a 24-hour or more waiting period and written notification, with no medical emergency exception, even if a parent accompanies his or her daughter to an out-of-state physician and consents to the abortion services. In such cases, this requirement acts as a built-in mandatory delay, imposing logistical and financial hardships on functional families who are trying to support their daughters. Even in a health emergency, this bill robs a parent of his or her ability to authorize immediate care. For example, if a parent and daughter were vacationing together in California and the parent brought her daughter to a hospital for emergency abortion services, this provision would needlessly require a doctor to wait 24 hours before providing that care.

We would also observe that the Federal Notification Provision’s very limited exceptions provide no safety net for the most vulnerable teens. For example, the section’s “exception” for teen victims of certain forms of abuse only applies if the young woman “declares in a signed written statement that she is the victim of abuse.” This “exception” ignores the painful reality that most abused teens are too afraid to tell anyone that they are being abused. Moreover, because the bill requires the doctor to notify the authorities of the abuse before the abortion is performed, many teens will not report the abuse for fear that their parents will discover the abuse report. As Justice O’Connor aptly stated in Hodgson v. Minnesota, an “exception to notification for minors who are victims of neglect or abuse is, in reality, a means of notifying the parents.” Moreover, “[t]he combination of the abused minor’s reluctance to report sexual or physical abuse . . . with the likelihood that invoking the abuse exception for the purpose of avoiding notice will result in notice, makes the abuse exception less than effectual.”
The bill also illogically sanctions the criminal activity of a parent by authorizing lawsuits to be brought by parents suffering “legal harm” against any person assisting a minor in obtaining an abortion across state lines. The private civil remedy aspect of both the Travel and Federal Notification Provisions are so broad that even a father who committed rape or incest against his own daughter would be empowered to bring a lawsuit seeking compensation under the legislation. If the pregnancy of the minor is a result of incest with her father, the minor must still comply with any parental consent or notification law in the state of her residence under this bill unless she signs a written statement and agrees to allow the physician to notify the authorities about the sexual abuse. If the minor decides not to sign a written statement or notify the authorities and is accompanied by her grandmother across state lines to a doctor in another state for abortion services, the father who committed the incest can bring a civil action against the grandmother and the doctor, effectively profiting from his own criminal wrongdoing.

The absurdities in this law go beyond anything even Samuel Beckett or Franz Kafka could devise.

Likewise, the Federal Notification Provision also imposes complex and absurd requirements for physicians and their patients. As noted above, section 2432 would require that the physician give 24 hours “actual notice” to a parent before performing an abortion on a minor from out-of-state. This provision would apply even if the minor came from a state that did not have a parental consent or notification law, and even if the parent went to the other state fully intending and approving of his or her child’s abortion. [Emphasis added.] The section defines “actual notice” as “the giving of a written notice directly, in person.” This section would seem to require that the physician or a member of her staff travel out-of-state to visit the parents of the patient in person. The section would allow for the physician to give “constructive notice” to the patient’s parents if it is not possible to provide them with “actual notice” after the physician has made a “reasonable effort” to do so. The section defines “constructive notice” as notice that is given by certified mail, to the last known address of the person being notified with delivery deemed to have occurred 48 hours following noon” on the day after the mailing occurred. The section does not define “reasonable effort.”

Past versions of this proposed law have been passed by the House, so if this bill is going to be defeated, it's going to take the best efforts of every person who cares about the health and safety of teenage girls, the integrity and autonomy of families, the right of everyone in this country to freedom of movement, and the right of doctors to make medical decisions in consultation with their patients without fear of government sanction. Just as an aside, it's quite revealing that the Republican leadership supports making it harder for individuals to file medical malpractice suits against doctors who do actual harm; but oppose the right of doctors to make medical judgments in partnership with their patient on whether to perform a legal medical procedure.

A pro-teen endangerment site run by Focus on the Family urges its readers to "contact your House members and ask them to do their part to make sure the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (H.R. 748) becomes law." Surely those of us who actually care about children can do no less to insist that our legislators make sure this very bad bill does NOT become law. At the end of this article, readers are instructed to "see the CitizenLink Action Center" for "help in contacting your lawmakers." The CitizenLink Action Center is set up to help right-wingers lobby their representatives on abortion, public prayer, anti-gay measures, and so on. (I didn't realize this until I clicked on the "Issues and Legislation" tab.) So let's us use their "Action Center" to find our lawmakers to defeat their repressive, oppressive, hateful legislation.


Saturday, April 23, 2005

NOT THAT THIS affects me anymore, but I'm glad to see the sponge is coming back. It was taken off the market in 1995 after the FDA discovered that the water being used by the manufacturer to make it was contaminated, and the equipment used to detect contamination was not functioning properly. The sponge is easy to use (unlike a diaphragm) and does not contain hormones (unlike birth control pills). It also has a very high success rate (89 - 91%).

The only problem is, it works by physically blocking the passage of sperm, which are absorbed into the sponge and then killed with a spermicide. Does anyone else think that the religious fanatics who oppose pills that prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus will cry foul at the return of the sponge, given that the sponge prevents the sperm from fertilizing an egg and then murders the sperm?


ECHIDNE is tired of hearing lefties talk about the day when Democrats "will be back in control." She doesn't feel "in control"; and doesn't think she ever will.

I will never be in control. I have never been in control and expect never to gain control over anything much. This I know for a fact. Why, then, can someone else so trustingly expect to have control over the political situation? What is it that makes me feel as if I have really very little say on this planet? There are many billions of people who probably have less say in reality. Or is it just that I don't believe in the generalized concept of control by one political party or another? Most of us don't have power over political effects, after all. So was whoever made the initial statement someone with access to real power? Or just someone who feels much more empowered?

This is all totally trivial. Or is it? Why do I feel as if my voice is inaudible in this world? Because it is? Because all our voices are inaudible in a world where only money and guns and gods can speak? Or is this a woman-thing? Something to do with the new pope, perhaps, with the celebration and glorification of a man who would not listen to women? Who would not listen to anyone with values like mine?

Maybe that is the answer. I no longer see, hear or read my values expressed positively in the media that stands for our common living-room. Can you think of a single person with liberal or progressive values who has easy access to mainstream media networks and who is actually allowed to speak uninterrupted for a few minutes? I can't think of a single living person like this. Some dead ones, sure, like Martin Luther King. But the dead are inaudible, too.

Via Archy, who adds some thoughts of his own on feeling in control that are very well taken. For one thing, he is not so sure he wants anyone to be "in control." That kind of hierarchical thinking is anathema to him -- and to me.

Personally, I don't like the idea of anybody being "in control." I want competent and liberal people in positions of responsibility and authority. But, I want them to [be] answerable to me, not in control of me. "Control" is a word like "leadership" that immediately puts me on the defensive. As long as I have been aware of elections, I've cringed at the biennial demand for leaders. I don't want to be led, thank you very much; I'm a grown up and I can make my own decisions (even if I take a long time to do it).

Both words imply the sort of top-down, hierarchical thinking that I despise. I'm a bottom-up, collegial sort of guy. I don't view the current struggle as our dictatorship versus their dictatorship. I view it as dictatorship versus democracy. If we have a dictator--even if it's our dictator--I'm going to do everything I can to undermine him (or her, but probably him).


HERE'S MY TAKE on the report in the Washington Times about the 8th grade guidance counselor in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, who recited an altered Pledge of Allegiance over the intercom, replacing "under God" with "under your belief system":

  • She should not have done that -- not because it was the Pledge of Allegiance, but because no guidance counselor (or teacher or principal, or janitor, for that matter) has the right to unilaterally change the wording in any official text. Obviously this woman has no common sense, which is alarming in a guidance counselor.
  • Okay, so what? Nobody was hurt, nobody died, nobody lost anything valuable. There are one or two things going on in the world that are more terrible than a phrase substitution in the Pledge of Allegiance. A little perspective would not be out of place here. As Norbizness said, "There is a lesson here: And that lesson is that regardless of the rampant environmental destruction that is occurring on Earth Day, the continuing attack by a group of millenialist nutballs on the separation of powers and the integrity of the judiciary, the blatant cover-ups of international law violations despite damning evidence to the contrary, the deteriorating-to-near-flatlining national fiscal situation, and the surging violence and failure to form a government in Iraq... one junior high school official can wash that shit away on national and cable news shows for at least a week."
  • The fact that the phrase "under God" is in the Pledge to begin with assumes a unity of belief that does not exist. James Joyner at Outside the Beltway puts it well: "Obviously, re-writing the Pledge is outside the purview of a school guidance counselor. Of course, the idea that a national patriotic ritual should include phraseology that's offensive to a substantial number of Americans is rather bizarre to begin with. "
  • Given that it's the Washington Times that broke the story, is it even true? (Just kidding -- I think.)


JOHN TIERNEY writes amusingly in his column today about the new JAMA study on weight and mortality.

For those of us lacking six-pack abs, this week's report that the overweight live longer is the greatest medical news in history. The authors of this study deserve a Nobel, not just for medicine, but for peace, too.

They have taken away the favorite cudgel of the scolds who used the "obesity epidemic" as an excuse to attack the flabby. The supposedly deadly consequences of fat provided the scientific rationale for the last politically correct form of prejudice.

The fatophobes are fighting on, disputing the new study and arguing that it still shows the fatal dangers of being seriously obese. But they have lost the scientific high ground. Not only do people of "normal" weight die younger than the moderately overweight, the study shows, but thin people die even younger than those of normal weight.

The Center for Consumer Freedom says the moral of the JAMA study is that "fitness (not fatness) is key" to longevity. And in case you're wondering about the credentials of the people who say this, don't worry. They are stellar.

Taking a direct stab at previous research that overemphasizes people's waist lines, the JAMA article notes that "most studies" of the flawed Body Mass Index (BMI) standard "and other measures of obesity have not adequately accounted for physical fitness." Says who? The authors hail from the National Institutes of Health, the University of Florida College of Medicine, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the Rhode Island Hospital, the Atlanta Cardiovascular Research Institute, and the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

David Brooks, snarky as ever, makes an attempt at conveying good cheer at the news that fat is healthier than skinny, but his real reason for crowing is that, according to him, the study proves that there is no point in being disciplined and responsible, because life rewards irresponsibility and slovenliness.

Mostly, I'm happy on an existential level. I like to be reminded that the universe is basically crooked. This is what the zero-tolerance brigades and all the better living gurus never quite get. They're busy trying to mold everybody into lifelong valedictorians, who spend their adulthood as carb counters and responsible flossers - the sort of organized folk who actually read legal documents before they sign them.

In reality, life is perverse and human beings don't get what they deserve. The people with the worst grades start the most successful businesses. The shallowest people end up blissfully happy and they are so vapid they don't even realize how vapid they are because vapidity is the only trait that comes with its own impermeable obliviousness system. The people regarded as lightweights, like F.D.R., J.F.K. and Ronald Reagan, make the best presidents, while you - so much more thoughtful and better read - would be a complete disaster.

Life isn't fair, logic is of limited value and, as Woody Allen observed years ago, everything your parents once thought was good for you turns out to be bad for you: sun, milk, red meat and college.

The chief moral lesson I take away from this report is that Mother Nature is happy to tolerate marginally irresponsible misbehavior. She doesn't want you to go completely to seed. If you're truly obese and arouse hippos when you visit the zoo, you could still punch your ticket at any moment.

Naturally, being David Brooks, he does not get it at all. The "chief lesson" in this study is that morality and weight have nothing to do with each other -- but if Brooks insists on bringing "personal responsibility" into this issue, then it must be the thin people who count calories obsessively but never get any exercise who are being irresponsible; and the overweight people who eat what they want to eat but are physically active are the ones who are behaving appropriately.


EZRA KLEIN has been blogging all this week on the health insurance policies of half a dozen nations around the world, and how they compare to ours -- or, more accurately, how ours compares to theirs because, in most cases, the U.S. falls quite a bit short of the mark when it comes to both the cost of health care and universal coverage.

Over at Angry Bear, Kash takes the zoom-in approach, with a series of posts on different aspects of health care in the United States.

Via Kevin Drum.

And if you want a regular source of information about health care issues, the Health Care Blog is just the ticket. I found it by way of a link on Ezra's blog.


Friday, April 22, 2005

Another Week in Post-Saddam Iraq

Wednesday, April 20 ... Iraqi security personnel pulled about 50 bodies out of the Tigris River, and more were pulled out the next day. Iraq's interim president, Jalal Talabani, claims they are the remains of as many as 100 Shiites who were abducted in Madain (a town near Baghdad) a week ago. But Iraqi police and health officials in the area say the bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition, indicating that the victims had been murdered and thrown into the river more like 3 or 4 weeks ago, and that they might have come from anywhere.

The corpses showed evidence of horrible mutilation.

Some had their hands cut off, others are headless or burnt. Another was strangled, with his tongue lolling out. [An Iraqi man interviewed at the scene] thinks one bloated, slime-covered corpse might be his younger brother.

The interim government also announced that 19 Iraqi soldiers had been found shot to death in a soccer stadium in Haditha, a Sunni town in Anbar Province. The soldiers were apparently murdered in firing-squad style -- against a wall, blindfolded and hands tied behind their backs -- and their bodies piled in the stadium afterward.

Back in early 2004, when thousands of Shiites who had been murdered by Saddam Hussein's regime were found buried in mass graves, the Bush administration took full advantage of the propaganda value to say what a monster Hussein was and how right and justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq had been: the major point being that now that Saddam Hussein was gone, Iraqis would be so much better off -- particularly Shiite Iraqis, since they were the ones who had been persecuted when Hussein was there.

The hundreds of Shiites who were executed and thrown into the Tigris River were also killed by Sunnis, quite possibly followers of Saddam Hussein, but these Shiites were killed after Hussein was overthrown.

In other times the massacre might have prompted calls for international intervention. But there are already 150,000 US and British troops in Iraq and this was done under their noses. Abu Qaddum’s pictures are a terrifying testament to the chaos of Iraq.

Madain has had no police force since a mob of criminals and insurgents burnt down the police station last year. The police fled.

Sunni guerrillas quickly took over, running the town as their own criminal fiefdom and randomly killing Shia residents, whom they considered infidels and US sympathisers. Then they launched an all-out attempt to purge the town of its Shias.

The Bush administration's response to the grisly discoveries in the Tigris and in Haditha was considerably more muted than it was to the discovery of those mass graves in 2004. According to the Washington Post, the official U.S. response to the killings in Haditha came from the Marine Corps; they said that the U.S. had no information about any killings in Haditha. Luckily, the USMC was able to state with confidence that "insurgents ransacked a television and radio station that provided emergency information, news and entertainment to the local population."

As far as I have been able to discover, the Bush administration had no comments to make at all about the bodies pulled out of the Tigris River.

Thursday, April 21 ... Insurgents in Iraq shot down a Russian-made helicopter, killing 10 men. There were 6 American contractors and 5 other men on board; the 11th man survived the crash and was shot in a volley of gunfire as he tried to walk away. The insurgents filmed the execution in the minutes before an American medical helicopter arrived at the scene.

Friday, April 22 ... At least 9 Iraqis were killed in a car bomb attack on a Shiite mosque in Baghdad. Two of the dead were children.